Cobra is one of a handful of action movies Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in during the 80s (outside of the Rocky and Rambo films) and the legend goes he pretty much directed this one too. As Lieutenant Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti, Stallone goes up against an army of underground psychos responsible for a mass killing spree in LA. With its neon-drenched cinematography and sub-par electronic score, Cobra feels like a Michael Mann movie as directed by, well, Sylvester Stallone.
It’s a lot of fun though. Cobra, the character, is a cool creation. With his aviator shades, toothpick, retro car and custom pistol, he cuts a silhouette of pure 80s badassery. I mean, look at the one-sheet poster. Isn’t that just the epitome of 80s action cinema? The whole film is knowingly absurd too. There’s a great moment with Cobra in his beach-pad after a night of kicking ass. Rather than going to bed, he puts on the news, cleans his gun and snips off a piece of cold pizza with a pair of scissors. Stallone is hilariously dead-pan throughout. This is his Dirty Harry and with Scorpio himself, Andrew Robinson, starring as Cobra’s superior, it’s pretty obvious that was his intent all along.
You get a sense of Stallone, the movie star, here too. You’ve only got to read some of the on-set stories to understand how inflated his ego was at this point. Which explains why the film is so big and loving of his abs and jawline. The casting of his then-girlfriend Brigitte Nielsen as the damsel in distress is obviously his doing too, and utterly ridiculous. Like Stallone, Nielsen is a gladiator-like example of her gender. She’s built like a goddess and towers over most of the men in this movie like a blonde statue. That would have been a cool thing to play with, but instead Stallone has her screaming and running away from men half her size when they pull a knife on her. Dumb, dumb, dumb. But it makes for some great unintentional sight gags.
As a kid, when I was the most receptive to these numbskull 80s action movies, I always preferred Schwarzenegger to Stallone. As I’ve grown up, however, I’ve learned to be more appreciative of Stallone because of how involved he was with so many of his key movies. He wasn’t just a beefcake movie star, he was also a writer, director and producer. Now, I’m not saying he’s Josef von Sternberg, but there’s something to be said for someone who had so much invested in his work andmanaged to appeal to mass audiences at the same time. Cobra aint Rocky, hell it aint even Rocky II, but as a Stallone rendition of the “bad cop” trope, it’s a satisfying 90 minutes. Oh, and it inspired Gosling’s toothpick Drive.